Sunday, March 21, 2010

WOBT: "Messiah on the Frigidaire"

Now in its eighth season, and with updated lighting equipment, Prattville's Way Off Broadway Theatre is currently showing Messiah on the Frigidaire, a comedy by John Culbertson co-directed by Stacey Little and Laura Morrison.

Set in a trailer park in a small South Carolina town, an image of what looks like Jesus [or is it Willie Nelson?] appears one night on the front-porch refrigerator of LouAnn and Dwayne Hightower [Dana Morrison and Wes Milton]. -- But, this shadow does not have the sensational appeal of other such apparitions with their bleeding or crying faces and associated "miracles": people who have been cured of disease or who have made life-changing decisions through associations with them.

So, what is this couple to do? Beset with failed dreams and disappointments in the ordinariness of their lives, Dwayne hatches a scheme to exploit their assumed good fortune by inventing a scenario that is published in the "National Investigator" newspaper, getting them into the national spotlight.

Conscripting neighbor Betsy Gridley [Hollie Pursifull] to pose as Regina Gomez, they soon have thousands of religious fanatic tourists responding to Regina's ever developing testimonials to the impact of the image of Jesus on the Frigidaire.

And a local preacher [Christopher Howard] and businessman [Zach McGough] support the enterprise in bilking the tourists as an economic stimulus for the town despite its obvious flim-flamming.

The comic potential is enhanced by recognizable character types and a good sense of Southern speech and mannerisms that the ensemble cast manage credibly. Numerous laugh-out-loud moments punctuate this two-hour production.

There are few surprises at the final outcome -- good will triumph over evil, after all -- yet along the way Culbertson's script shows us the humanity of the individual characters. They are not mere stereotypes, and there are more serious matters at hand, particularly for the threesome at the play's core.

Betsy's small-town reputation as the High School tramp follows her to adulthood, and Ms. Pursifull gives a feisty and outspoken portrayal; yet she is also shown to be the most stalwart of true friends and a person whose conscience will not allow her to continue the hoax when it injures others.

LouAnn's dilemma -- whether to stand by her man and his money-making scheme or to insist on doing the right thing even if it jeopardizes their marriage -- is given a sensitive conflicted characterization by Ms. Morrison...not an easy task to balance; yet her comfortable naturalistic voice and mannerisms keep her grounded in a truthful performance.

Dwayne's lackadaisical good-old-boy temperament is energized by the potential offered in a get-rich-quick scheme. Once a man who was "always thinking", he has become a victim of unfulfilled dreams and will grasp at anything to get himself out of this rut. Mr. Milton's frustrations in the role are almost tangible, and when LouAnn and Dwayne ultimately choose to do the right thing, their mutual relief and resolve shows them to be the classy people they dream of being, even thought they remain in the trailer-park.

So yes -- class is not determined by money or social level, everyone can enjoy life by just letting things happen, we all get distracted at one time or another, our potentials can be achieved by persistence, and love is a strong ally.